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Screenwriting Failure – Check for Originality

Aug 4, 2018business, writing

I’ve already talked about my Lost Weekend away from screenwriting. In a nutshell, I choked and sank into a deep depression, unable to produce a word for months. This time I want to talk about something more practical. I can sum it up with a cliche: “Check yourself before you wreck yourself”. Or, put more simply. “Writers should check their damn ideas for originality”.

One of my assets as a writer is my off-kilter taste and sensibility. I’ve been complimented more than once on my unconventional premises. I’m here to tell you, though: Don’t believe your own press.

After I emerged from my sad, unproductive period, I finished one script, submitted it to my agent and began another — this one a TV pilot. I don’t like to share specifics, but I was proud of the idea. It was funky. It was out there.

It had also been done.

Did I find out right away and course-correct before I committed? Oh, hell no. I wrote the entire damn script, polished it, and gave it to a friend to read. He read it, thought to himself, “Hmm, I wonder if anyone’s ever done this idea before”, and — following a five-second Google search — he had his answer. There was a whole series of books (by a known author with a mainstream publisher) with the exact same premise. Had I followed through, Mr. Known Author could’ve taken legal action and won.

I had no idea. Why? Because I hadn’t vetted my concept. I came up with it, said, “What a good boy am I”, and dove right in. Dumb, dumb, dumb. I could’ve saved myself a lot of effort with a five-second Google search.

This story does have a happy ending, though. I was able to save the script by changing the protagonist. Of course, that wasn’t simply a matter of cut and paste since the details had to be rejiggered. Still, I should’ve done my due diligence.

So, writers, check your ideas for originality. I didn’t. I am a dummy.

Anyway, I’m on to my next script. It’s a feature about a farm boy on a remote planet who leaves to take on an evil galactic empire.

No one’s done that one, right?